Had everything gone by the original plans, Lee Teng-hui ’68 Ph.D. would have arrived today at the Tompkins County Regional Airport to begin a three-day visit to Cornell.
Lee, an honored Cornell alumnus and the former president of the Republic of China on Taiwan, postponed his trip until May 29 due to health concerns following a coronary medical procedure that he undertook last week in Osaka, Japan.
Lee applied for a U.S. visa — and received an invitation that is good for five years — to attend a ceremony for the Lee Teng-hui Institute, which will be located in Duffield Hall. In arranging the visit with University officials, he also emphasized the importance of meeting with his granddaughter while on campus.
Despite Lee’s best attempts to keep his plans to return to the U.S. low-key, the media in East Asia and the U.S. have swarmed to cover the story. More than 200 reporters were on hand last week for Lee’s brief journey to Japan.
Meanwhile, Lee’s granddaughter, whose name is not even known to the public, has succeeded in maintaining a low profile. A Chinese news agency printed her name two weeks ago as rumors that Lee would apply for a visa were heating up. The name, however, was one she goes by in Taiwan — but it could not identify her at Cornell.
This secrecy that Lee’s granddaughter has kept has thrown the media in Taiwan. In recent weeks, according to Linda Grace-Kobas, director of the Cornell News Service, several media organizations in Taiwan have requested information about and interviews with the presidential descendant, but none have succeeded.
Last week, with the assistance of the Cornell News Service, The Sun contacted Lee’s granddaughter and was granted an interview under the condition that she is not identified by The Sun.
From her responses, Lee’s granddaughter — whoever she is — exhibited the image of an ordinary young woman from a family that is anything but ordinary. She refused to jump into the fray surrounding Lee’s eminent involvement in foreign relations and has shown a deft ability to separate the personal and political aspects that encompass her life.
Q: What was your opinion of Cornell before you came to the University?
A: It was a good school with a great vet [veterinary] program.
Q: Did Mr. Lee encourage you to come to Cornell?
Q: Do any of your friends or classmates know that you are Mr. Lee’s granddaughter?
A: Some do.
Q: Why don’t you want to reveal your name to the media?
A: The reason I don’t want people to know who I am is because
1) I’m here to study, not to talk about my family relations;
2) I don’t want people to have a biased opinion about me because of my relationship with Mr. Lee, and especially if they have never talked to me before.
Q: What is it like being part of such a well-known family in Asia? Would you consider your experience comparable to being a Clinton (like Chelsea Clinton) or a Bush or a Kennedy in the United States?
A: No, I’m definitely not that well known.
Q: Do you plan to live in the United States or in Taiwan once you graduate?
A: That would all depend.
Q: Did you go to school in Taiwan before coming to Cornell?
Q: What have your experiences been in Asia?
A: I love Taiwan, and I think I’ve grown to appreciate it more after I left it (especially the warm weather).
Q: How long have you been planning to see Mr. Lee at Cornell? How frequently do you speak with him?
A: I speak to him whenever I go home.
Q: What was it like for you having a grandfather who was president of a country, and how has that changed since Mr. Lee left office last year?
A: Well, I guess the best way to answer this would be to ask, “What’s it like to have a grandfather?” And I think you all know the answer to that one. The presidency was his job, but it’s irrelevant to him being a grandfather.
Q: How do people think of Mr. Lee in Taiwan today?
A: Well, I can’t really speak for everyone in Taiwan, especially since I
haven’t really lived there for a while. Mr. Lee is my grandfather, he’s always going to be grandfather first. Being president was his job.
Q: What do you think about Taiwan’s independence?
A: You’ll have to get back to me on this one.
Q: Would you consider a career in politics yourself?
A: No politics for me.
Following the interview, Lee’s granddaughter confirmed that she will be on campus during her grandfather’s visit this summer.
Archived article by Matthew Hirsch